A coalition including the SIU, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), SIU-contracted Crowley, Matson and TOTE (respectively), non-profit organizations and other groups has teamed up to eventually deliver more than 100,000 free books to students in Puerto Rico, Guam and Alaska.
The AFT, the Transportation Institute (TI) (representing U.S.-flag vessel operators) and the organization First Book in particular spearheaded the launch of the outreach known as BookWaves. Together, all participants are uniting to assist students and families during the COVID-19 crisis.
TI Chairman and President Jim Henry said, “Reading books to children helps stimulate their imagination and expands their ability to understand the world, and that’s why the Transportation Institute – with its maritime members Crowley and TOTE – are dedicated and proud to work with teachers to donate and ship thousands of books to young students to help make our future stronger.”
AFT President Randi Weingarten said, “We’re doing our part to help students and their families – regardless of their geography or demography – have what they need to learn. Our hope is that BookWaves will provide books to help them navigate this difficult time and prioritize one of the most fundamental things we can all do together: read.”
BookWaves is supported by SIU-contracted operators Crowley, Matson, and TOTE, as well as trucking company Convoy and other local air and ground transportation companies that have donated their expertise and services to ship tens of thousands of books across land and sea to remote communities in need of books. The AFT, TI and Pi Beta Phi Foundation provided financial support to secure books from First Book; while the AFT and the SIU helped with title selection and providing onthe- ground coordination of sorting and distribution.
At press time, the first wave of 3,000 bilingual and Spanish STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) books have been distributed, at a socially distant outdoor event at the Manuel A. Perez Residencial in San Juan, with more distributions to follow in the late fall and winter across Alaska, Guam and Puerto Rico.
“Hearing of the hard work the AFT and First Book have been doing over the years to bring millions of books to students in need inspired our organization to marshal the resources of the U.S.-flag maritime industry and our logistics partners to help Americans in far-flung communities that rely on our shipping services have better access to books and inspire a lifelong love of reading and learning,” said Rich Berkowitz, the Transportation Institute’s vice president of Pacific Coast Operations.
Crowley donated the shipping of 3,000 STEM books in Spanish, bilingual and English titles and is committed to shipping another 30,000 books to Puerto Rico. The Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico is spearheading the effort to distribute books, as well as partnering with the SIU to create maritime collections in high schools to support career and technical education.
“This is a great initiative, which truly will have a positive impact for the students. A book in the hands of a child or young person is an opportunity for the development of language, comprehension, reading and their upbringing as a human being,” said Elba L. Aponte Santos, president of the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico. “We are grateful for this collaboration to bring high-quality books, which are so important for students and teachers of Puerto Rico.” “Working in partnership with the Transportation Institute, including Crowley and TOTE, as well as the teachers of our young students in Puerto Rico, we will create a pathway of knowledge that enables these students to learn, grow and seek out the career ladders that are offered in the maritime industry and other opportunities,” said SIU Port Agent Amancio Crespo.
“Bringing more than 100,000 free books to students and families in need is never easy, but doing it during a worldwide pandemic is almost impossible,” said AFT Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus. “We never could have gotten these books to kids without the generosity, tenacity and collaborative ‘can-do’ spirit of the U.S.-flagged shipping companies Crowley, Matson and TOTE as well as the Seafarers International Union members. Thank you so much for the essential work you do – day in, day out – to provide a stable and vital lifeline of resources to American communities and families.”
In Guam, more than 40,000 books have been delivered from the East Coast by Convoy and then shipped across the Pacific Ocean by Matson Navigation. Volunteers from the Guam Federation of Teachers (GFT) and SIU will distribute the books to pre-K through 12th-grade public school students and families as soon as island lockdown restrictions are relaxed.
“Our members are so excited to have so many and such great books to provide to our students,” said GFT President Tim Fedenko. “We are eager to start handing out books as soon as possible to support student achievement and to help build the sense of community that can be hard to create while doing remote learning.”
“Crowley is proud and honored to support the education of children on the island through the donated transportation of 33,000 books as part of the BookWaves coalition initiative,” said Crowley Logistics Vice President, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, Salvador Menoyo. “As the longest-serving U.S. shipping line serving Puerto Rico, Crowley’s team is dedicated to serving our friends and neighbors on the island. Supporting Puerto Rico’s youths is a natural part of our unending commitment.”
TOTE Puerto Rico General Manager and Vice President of Caribbean Services Eduardo Pagan said, “While COVID-19 has changed our world and deeply impacted the education system, today’s delivery of tens of thousands of books by First Book, AMPR, the Transportation Institute and many others demonstrates that our entire community – on and off the island – is dedicated to providing students in Puerto Rico the tools and resources they need to advance their education. This donation is the first of many to come and TOTE is proud to be a partner in this initiative that will help shape the future for Puerto Rico’s young people and create a positive and lasting impact in our communities.”
As the coalition focuses on remote and rural communities in Alaska, nearly 40,000 books were slated for delivery in November with an emphasis on STEM and books with Indigenous characters, including “Molly of Denali,” based on the popular PBS animated show.
BookWaves is working with Alaska Marine Lines, Alaska Communications, Northern Air Cargo, Ryanair, TOTE, AFT affiliates in Alaska, and Alaskan Indigenous organizations to deliver books to as many rural and remote communities as possible. According to Berkowitz, “The broader effort led to a special partnership between the Alaska fishing philanthropic organization AFIRM and Western Alaskan Community Development Quota Program villages to provide access to books for their local youth. Kids from Atka to Naknek to Diomede will have an opportunity to select their own high-quality books.”
Along with the books, the AFT is providing bookplates for kids to write their names inside their books to give them a sense of ownership and pride. In Puerto Rico, materials are in Spanish and English; in Guam, bilingual English-Chamorro bookmarks include reading tips for parents on how to help their children become strong readers; and blank journals will be provided for students in Alaska, Guam and Puerto Rico so students have an opportunity to express themselves and write their own stories.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated an existing crisis in education, especially for children in poverty. We cannot allow them to slide further behind while they are isolated without books and educational resources – essentially locked out of learning,” said Kyle Zimmer, president, CEO and co-founder of First Book. “We are so grateful that the BookWaves coalition understands the gravity of this problem and is working with us to help the kids in greatest need. This innovative collaboration is helping to engage some of our country’s most vulnerable children at a time when they need that support the most.”